The day after my Pichon Lalande dinner a neuroscientist came for lunch. I had soft-pedaled the appointment, not knowing if I would have time to sit down and taste, but when someone calls for a 1:00 reservation with the promise of interesting juice I let them earn credibility.
Considering the winking words of Clive Coates the night before about the “wines of the third world”, it is relevant that this year is the official celebration of 350 years of wine being made in South Africa.
I sat with them after they had had lunch and was introduced to Mark Solms, owner of Solms-Delta, who had left London in 2001 to return to his family farm in Franschoeck in the Western Cape and decided that the climate and soils would be best suited for Rhone varietals. He began by telling me about his study of ancient Greek and Roman techniques and how he had become intrigued by the Roman practice of “strangulation,” whereby the vine was literally twisted and choked to preserve acidity. This has by now become the slightly more modern practice of “dessication,” in which pliers are used to clamp onto the vine, crossing at ninety degree angles to trap acidity while the grapes desiccate on the vine, still ripening but losing over 40% of their liquid content between 2-7 weeks.